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God … I miss the Soviet Union


Anand Giridharadas buries a verbal hatchet into Amazon’s back – and his own two feet.

Is Anand trying to tell us that Americans were earlier all Santa Claus? (Cartoon by Jeff Stahler; 9/21/2011; source and courtesy - cagle.com). Click for larger image.

Is Anand trying to tell us that Americans were earlier all Santa Claus? (Cartoon by Jeff Stahler; 9/21/2011; source and courtesy - cagle.com). Click for larger image.

The prevailing American story line is seething anger at politicians: they’re corrupt, or heartless, or socialist, or dumb. But many other recent developments, suggest that the problem is significantly deeper.It is becoming a country in which people more than disagree. They fail to see each other. They think in types about others, and assume the worst of types not their own.

It takes some effort these days to remember that the United States is still one nation.

It doesn’t feel like one nation when a company like Amazon, with such resources to its name, treats vulnerable people so badly just because it can. Or when members of a presidential debate audience cheer for a hypothetical 30-year-old man to die because he lacks health insurance. Or when schoolteachers in Chicago cling to their union perks and resist an effort to lengthen the hours of instruction for children that the system is failing. Or when an activist publicly labels the U.S. military, recently made safe for open homosexuals, a “San Francisco military.” Or when most of the television pundits go on with prefabricated scripts to eviscerate their rivals, instead of doing us the honor of actually thinking.

The more I travel, the more I observe that Americans are becoming foreigners to each other. People in Texas speak of people in New York the way certain Sunnis speak of Shiites, and vice versa in New York. Many liberals I know take for granted that anyone conservative is either racist or under-informed. People who run companies like Amazon operate as though it never occurred to them that it could have been them crawling through the aisles. And the people who run labor unions possess little empathy for how difficult and risky and remarkable it is to build something like Amazon.

What is creeping into the culture is simple dehumanization, a failure to imagine the lives others lead. Fellow citizens become caricatures. People retreat into their own safe realms. And decency, that great American virtue, falls away. (via The Fraying of a Nation’s Decency – NYTimes.com).

Your Grace Spreads Darkness

Anand Giridharadas’ and his enlightened ideas have graced the web-pages of this blog earleir. His ideas continue to shine through – creating darkness, where there was no light. Had it been a good-natured, red-neck American who was writing this kind of tripe, it would have been understandable.

But Anand Giridharadas?

Graduate from an American University, journalist with IHT, for sometime consultant with McKinsey, whose articles gets reprinted in NYT. Whose books are sold on Amazon.

Surprising!

Talking Your Walk

First and foremost. Anand Giridharadas on the way some Sunnis speak about Shias. It is the same as some Americans speak about Muslims – or anyone or anything else. Like certain ‘Whites’ speak of ‘Blacks’. Or about obese people. No different. Why does he specify Sunnis and Shias, I could not fathom. Unless he is treading the beaten path of demonizing politically, unpopular people.

If Anand Giridharadas wants to talk of dehumanization, it unfortunately, does not stop at Others, or at American borders – or short of Muslims. It starts with You.

Humanity, by the way, is universal. वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम, vasudhaiva kutumbakam (meaning “vasudha”, the earth; “eva” = emphasizer and “kutumbakam”, “family”)is sumtin dat Anand Giridharadas, noz nuttin abot.

Said One WASP To Another

Coming to American decency.

I am sure that if Anand Giridharadas goes through some old copies of NYT, he will espy prejudices and discrimination against the Irish, the Polacks and the Eye-Talians. Dare I remind Bro Anand Giridharadas how the name of another Eye-Talian Bro has been rubbed out from history books. The man who gave Jefferson the ideas. The same ideas that Jefferson stumbled upon, while dining alone, and is today famous for.

The WASP Americans were also building character. Of the Native Americans, African-Americans, Chinese, Germans, 'Eye-Talians', Irish, 'Polacks', Jews, and others. Can their decency be doubted? (Cartoon by David Horsey; September 2008; source and courtesy - http://revart.blogs.com). Click for larger image.

The WASP Americans were also building character. Of the Native Americans, African-Americans, Chinese, Germans, 'Eye-Talians', Irish, 'Polacks', Jews, and others. Can their decency be doubted? (Cartoon by David Horsey; September 2008; source and courtesy - http://revart.blogs.com). Click for larger image.

Before the Irish, Poles and the Italians, we had the Americans who had certain kind of thoughts about Chinese labour. More recently the Mexicans may give Anand Giridharadas some ideas on American decency. I will not even start on talking to African-American or the Native-American chapters on American decency.

How Anand Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life

He might want to look up NYT archives on Thind vs United States (1923). By the way, Thind maybe the reason, why Anand can call himself an American today. Labour shortage, after WWII, was another reason.

His exalted opinion of the American people is surely wishful thinking.

The Organization Man

The third point is surely he should do some reading on the corporate environment in the 1930s and 1950s – to what was called the period of the Organization Man – the quintessential Company Man and his behaviour. The book warns that corporate culture may induce ‘individuals (to) sacrifice their personal beliefs, initiative, and imagination in order to belong.’ Writen in 1956, by William Hollingsworth Whyte, for sometime Assistant Managing editor with Fortune magazine, the chapter on Scientism,has been a useful template against flummery.

After Whyte, Scientism became ‘not Science! It is not Fact. It is Faith —in beliefs that are unsupported by Facts and Evidence’. Before him, in the 19th century, Scientism, was in fact scientific thinking – and people were warned of ‘boastful and blatant scientism and naturalism which does not hesitate dogmatically to negative the doctrines of faith.’

Industrial societies … Before and After

Whyte’s  narrative of the Ecole Polytechnique, partly explains the modern French ‘success’ with public sector. The less hopeful, greyer and bleaker version of Whyte would be Barbara Ehrenreich – whose books, Nickel and Dimed (2001) and Bait and Switch (2005) have explored the world of the American Unemployed.

Easier still, and for earlier accounts, he can read Charles Dickens (for British equivalent of the American Factory era), or see some Charlie Chaplin movies. I would especially recommend Modern Times to him. Even Roald Dahl’s, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would give him a taste of the Amazon’s earlier avataars. He will realize that the front face of companies like Amazon, the gloss, glaze and polish, is maya.

At the end of it all, I am reminded of a doha by Goswani Tulsidas.

तेरे भावे जो करा, भला बुरो संसार | नारायण तू बैठ कर, अपनो भुवन बुहार||
Do whatever pleases you, forget about pointing fingers at the world;
You (who are in God’ image) sit down and first sweep your own house clean.
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